More Scottish teachers but primary classes stay the same size

Scotland sees 543 more teachers
Scotland sees 543 more teachers
Have your say

The number of teachers in Scotland has increased by 543 in the last year but primary school class sizes have remained the same, according to official statistics.

Scottish Government data has revealed that the total number of primary, secondary and special teachers stands at 51,513 this year compared with 50,970 in 2016.

The increase in teachers has been accompanied by a rise in the number of school children by 4,611 to 688,959 this year, meaning that the overall pupil/teacher ratios have only fallen from 13.7 in 2016 to 13.6 this year.

The Scottish Government has had a long-standing target to reduce primary one to three classes to 18.

READ MORE: Scottish classroom left in tears as 20th teacher in four years quits

However the data showed that average class sizes in primaries one to three were 23.2 this year, a slight fall from 23.3 recorded in 2016. The average class size for all primary pupils was 23.5, the same as last year.

The proportion of children in primaries one to three in class sizes of 18 or fewer had fallen.

In 2017, 20,997 (12.2 per cent) of primaries one to three pupils were in classes of 18 or fewer, compared with 21,906 (12.7 per cent) last year.

READ MORE: Scotland’s weather: A full list of school closures

There were still 44,965 pupils taught in classes of 26 pupils or more (the equivalent of 26.1 per cent) – although that was decrease from last year when 46,293 pupils (26.8 per cent) were in classes of 26 and over.

The increased teacher numbers were welcomed as a step in the right direction, but opposition parties pointed out that the statistics were still 3,570 teachers behind staffing levels when the SNP came to power in 2007.

The figures illustrated how the gap in academic performance between children from deprived and affluent areas widens throughout primary school.

In reading, writing, listening and talking and numeracy a higher proportion of those living in the wealthiest areas of Scotland achieve the expected Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) level compared to pupils from the poorest parts.

The 2016/17 Achievement of CfE Levels Return, which is based on the professional judgement of teachers, shows the gap between the most and least deprived in P1 is 17 points for reading, rising to 20 points by P7.

For writing, the gap in those achieving the expected level widens from 18 points to 22 between P1 and P7, in listening and talking it grows from 12 points to 17 and for numeracy it widens from 14 points to 20.

Lib Dem education spokesman Tavish Scott said the SNP’s class size policy was “in tatters”.

“Smaller classes matter because they help pupils learn and give teachers more contact time with those children who need extra help. Increasing class sizes only make it harder to close the attainment gap.  

“Today’s figures show that after a decade in power the SNP Government has comprehensively failed to deliver on its commitment of smaller class sizes, particularly for our youngest pupils.”

Green MSP Ross Greer said the Government had to use cash earmarked for closing the attainment gap to plug education cuts.

Mr Greer said: “An increase in teacher numbers, however small, is welcome but it’s also very clear from these statistics that schools have only been able to reverse a fraction of the cuts of the last decade and they’ve had to use their attainment funding to do it. This funding is for targeted interventions to reduce the attainment gap, not to firefight the worse damage from ten years of budget cuts.”

Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Education is this government’s number one priority and we are investing heavily to ensure every child in Scotland has an equal chance to realise their full potential. We can now see that our decision to give headteachers more money and more power to decide for themselves how to close the attainment gap is paying off.

“Hundreds of additional teachers are now in Scottish classrooms, benefiting pupils the length and breadth of Scotland, as a result of that decision. That’s good news for teachers, parents and pupils.”